- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2018

Government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad reached a deal Monday with embattled Syrian Kurds in the northeast city of Afrin to battle back against an ongoing Turkish incursion into the city.

Syrian Kurds allied with Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Afrin have agreed to allow government troops into the city to refortify Kurdish positions against the Turkish offensive, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, Reuters reported. State news outlets in Damascus on Monday announced government troops would arrive in the city, which sits along the Syrian-Turkish border, within days.

Leaders within the YPG and Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) expect the Syrian reinforcements to arrive in Afrin within the week, Badran Jia Kurd, a senior adviser to YPG elements based in northern Syria, told the Daily Sabah. He declined to comment on how many government troops were expected to arrive, or what kind of armaments they will bring to the fight.

The new pact between the Kurdish militias and Damascus could further inflame tensions between Ankara, the Assad regime and Russia — its only international military ally. The move will also create more consternation for the Trump administration, who has grappled with warring Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian factions vying for control in a post-Islamic State Syria.

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon has yet to comment on the reported pact, which was reached shortly after a visit by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to Turkey, intended to help soothe growing animosity between the two NATO allies. During the visit, Mr. Tillerson re-emphasized the necessity of U.S.-Turkish relations as the Middle East looks to recover from the war against the Islamic State, or ISIS.

“The relationship is too important, it’s too valuable to NATO and our NATO allies … for us not to do anything other than concentrate on how are we going forward,” he said during a press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

However, Washington’s continued backing of Syrian Kurdish paramilitaries in northern Syria remains a flashpoint for both the U.S. and Ankara.

Large elements of the YPG or PYD make up the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed confederation of Arab and Kurdish paramilitaries who flushed ISIS from its Syrian capital of Raqqa last year. U.S. forces continue to train and equip SDF fighters — including those tied to the YPG and PYD — in Manbij as the anti-ISIS offensive continues in Syria.

Turkey has threatened to expand its Afrin operations westward, toward U.S. lines in Manbij, saying American military advisers could be targeted as part of that expanded offensive. In response, U.S. commanders on the ground in Syria and in the Pentagon have repeatedly stated that Washington has no intention of withdrawing from Manbij, or the larger Euphrates River Valley.

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